Not only Modi; Mamata, Naveen, Kejriwal, Akhilesh, Stalin, KCR, Jagan too appeal for votes at all levels.

On an evening in January 1989, eleven months before the V.P. Singh hurricane swept Congress out of power and ushered in a period of instability, which ended with the Narendra Modi typhoon in 2014, there was a sudden commotion in the premises of the Prime Minister’s House on Race Course Road (now renamed Lok Kalyan Marg). 18-year-old Rahul Gandhi had hurt himself. The preceding yearend had been spent by the Nehru-Gandhis at Lakshadweep. Back in New Delhi, Rahul Gandhi, who had distinguished himself as an expert in rifle shooting, tried his hand at harpooning. He attempted to harpoon fish at a pond in the family’s Mehrauli farmhouse. The pond, where the adventure was attempted, had a cemented bottom; the harpoon missed the fish and boomeranged, hitting him on his forehead—fortunately, his eye was not hurt. Since 2007, when Sonia Gandhi called Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat, “maut ka saudagar”, time and again the Congress has been harpooning and each time it has boomeranged, giving advantage to the BJP. Nascent octogenarian Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge’s barb that Modi is like a “hundred headed” Ravan, who campaigns in municipal, Vidhan Sabha ad Parliament polls, is the latest harpoon whose effect will be known on 8 December. Mani Shankar Aiyar’s “chaiwala” and “neech” darts did not hurt Modi. Fellow Gujarati Madhusudan Mistry’s fling that Modi will be shown his “auqat” (status) was used by Modi to assert that as he did not come from an affluent family, he had no pretentions of “auqat”. The fact of the matter is that having chosen not to project a “face” in its Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh or even Delhi municipal contests, Congress cannot question the parties who rely on faces whose credibility invokes voter response. Modi is not alone in going the whole hog in campaigning for his party at all levels—Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Arvind Kejriwal, Akhilesh Yadav, KCR, Jaganmohan Reddy, M.K. Stalin and even stoic CPI(M)’s Pinarayi Vijayan in Kerala do not miss out any opportunity of reaching out to the electorate. Rahul Gandhi went to Gujarat, during a recess in his Bharat Jodo Yatra, as an afterthought—spoke more on the yatra than the issues in the election. Priyanka Vadra attracted crowds in Himachal, but her rallies were too few. Having been elected as Congress president, Kharge ought to muster the strength to project himself as his party’s face—he is a Dalit leader with 50 years of successes in electoral politics in his native Gulbarga; comes from a humble background, being a factory worker’s son. The Nehru-Gandhis may have obtrusively stepped aside, but the family’s hold on the Congress leash is all too apparent. And thus Kharge perhaps prefers to please his benefactors by his diatribe on Modi.
Rahul Gandhi’s well curated Bharat Jodo Yatra has helped him shrug off the “Pappu” perception, which had been assiduously projected by his detractors over the past 19 years since he joined politics. “Teen Bandar”, the PR firm engaged by the yatra secretariat, which is crafted by Jairam Ramesh, has flooded the social media with clips and photographs of various facets of the yatra. The event has given an opportunity to local Congress workers to activate themselves after years of hibernation. But has the yatra impacted the electorate? Psephologist and Swaraj Party chief Yogendra Yadav, who is among the civil society faces walking alongside Rahul, in a recent interview, while praising the Yatra, doubted its viability in electoral politics. And during the Yatra, Rahul’s comment on Veer Savarkar, whom Marathis across political divide revere, did not produce a positive result—if anything, Congress allies NCP and Shiv Sena (Uddhav), whose young inheritors Supriya Sule and Aaditya Thackeray, had joined at Nanded when the yatra reached the state, decided to steer clear in the later phase. Medha Patkar walking with Rahul was gleefully used by the BJP to project Congress as a party opposed to Gujarat’s development. Water from Narmada canal has made drought in Saurashtra and Kutch a past memory—the participation of Patkar, who led the anti-Narmada Dam movement, thus provided gunpowder to the BJP campaign managers.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra enters Rajasthan today. The Ashok Gehlot-Sachin Pilot chasm came to fore as the yatra entered neighbouring Madhya Pradesh and Sachin was seen walking side by side with Rahul, Priyanka, Robert Vadra and their son, Rehan. Alarm bells were ringing in Jaipur since the Maharashtra phase of the yatra, when reports reached about Assembly Speaker, C.P. Joshi joining the yatra with his followers, including a minister in the Gehlot cabinet. Joshi, a former Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) chief and minister in the Manmohan Singh regime, is a dormant contender for CM post. Gehlot invited a TV channel to a village, Rihat, in Pali district and gave an interview in which he described Sachin as “gaddar”, “nikamma”, “mahatwakangshi”. This, soon after the AICC general secretary in charge of the state, Ajay Maken, had announced his resignation from the post as Gehlot had entrusted the Yatra management in Rajasthan to Dharmendra Rathore, one of the three to whom AICC issued show-cause notices when Gehlot loyalists revolted on the eve of the Congress presidential poll. Rahul’s trusted AICC functionary, K.C. Venugopal’s air dash to Jaipur saw Gehlot and Sachin joining hands. Will the truce last? Rahul has described Gehlot and Pilot as assets for the party.
Mallikarjun Kharge has been silent on the Rajasthan developments. As Congress president he could reassure Gehlot of full tenure while projecting Sachin as a future face. But facelessness is a much sought “competency” in Congress. Kharge seems to be wary of departing from this.
Meanwhile, Amarinder Singh, Sunil Jakhar and Rana Gurmeet Sodhi, former Congressmen from Punjab, have been accommodated in BJP national executive in less than a year after their crossing over. Likewise, Jaiveer Shergill, Congress spokesman, who quit some months back, joins his former colleague Tom Vadakkan as a spokesman for BJP. Face of the pre-2017 Patidar movement in Gujarat, Hardik Patel, whom Rahul made working president of Congress in Gujarat, is now contesting as a BJP candidate—he quit as he felt poly-tricks and not politics was the forte of the party of which he had been made an office bearer. Former Congressman Himanta Biswa Sarma is leading the charge of BJP’s light brigade, almost competing with Yogi Adityanath, in berating Congress. In BJP 2.0, unlike the Vajpayee-Advani era “party with a difference”, RSS membership or ABVP background is no longer either necessary nor essential for being accommodated in the J.P. Nadda team on Deendayal Upadhyaya Marg national headquarters of the party.